Format: Picture book
Author: Bonny Becker
Illustrator: Kady MacDonald Denton
Publisher: Candlewick (August 2012)
We’re all about bears over here. Little E (2.5) is forever telling me there’s a scary bear in her room, or a friendly bear sitting at the table, or a friendly scary bear standing in our backyard. We spend a lot of time pretending to hide from scary bears, and friendly bears — I’m not sure Little E is precisely sure about the difference. Fortunately, we live downtown, so she is unlikely to have to judge the intentions of an approaching ursine. This is especially good since I’ve told her that she can get rid of a scary bear by clapping her hands and yelling “Go away, scary bear!” This is not part of the Ministry of Environment’s recommended Bear Safety Plan.
Anyway, she usually picks out books about bears from the library these days. I’m cool with it; bears are neat. Some of the bear books are better than others. I’ve already told you how much we’ve enjoyed Karma Wilson’s bear series, and now we’ve found a new bear book that turns out to be the first in a series as well. A Visitor for Bear features a misanthropic bear who protects his solitude with a No Visitors Allowed Sign and a plucky mouse, whom I always imagine speaking in a high-pitched upper-crust English accent (my read-alouds of this book are a bit flawed as I don’t do a very good English accent), who is determined to visit for at the very least a cup of tea. The bear only wants to make his breakfast, but when he finds he can’t keep his visitor out — he finds him in the bread drawer, the fridge, and the teakettle — he discovers that perhaps company is not so very bad after all. The combination of Becker’s characters’ personalities and absolutely winning prose with Denton’s spot-on watercolour illustrations works together to bring Bear and Mouse to life believably, humorously, and unforgettably. Little E has been asking for A Visitor for Bear several times a day. We can’t wait to read more in this series.
Format: Board book
Author and illustrator: Janik Coat
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (May 2012)
Here is a book your graphic design friends will love, your word nerd friends will go bananas for, and your kids might even enjoy.
Many of us have several books about opposites in our kiddos’ libraries: Sandra Boynton’s Opposites is a classic, but you could fill an Ikea Billy bookshelf with the range of opposite books available at any big ole box bookstore. Here’s one that’s a little different. Author and illustrator Janik Coat presents us with a simple, red, boldly illustrated hippopotamus on each page, corresponding to his opposite on the facing page. The opposite pairs work well together, often with a touch of humour: the light hippopotamus is floating away in a hot air balloon, while the heavy hippopotamus sinks to the bottom of the ocean. There are innovative tactile experiences to enjoy on many of the pages — feel the difference between soft and rough with plush and burlap — and no assumptions are made about the young reader’s ability, or more precisely lack of ability, to grasp more complex words (there’s an opaque/transparent pair and an invisible/visible pair). Some of the pages will work better for the parent than for the child they might be reading to: the front/side pair shows that the one-dimensional hippopotamus is reduced to a single line when he turns sideways. But if you’re tired of reading “high and low, fast and slow,” give this book a try and you’ll find yourself reading and explaining more interesting concepts like “clear and blurry” and “positive and negative.” The design is very modern and should appeal to hipster parents everywhere.
Format: Picture book
Author: Margaret Mahy
Illustrator: Polly Dunbar
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (published May 2013)
Parents often underestimate their children’s ability to absorb new vocabulary. We might know that a word is considered difficult, but our children have no such preconceptions. While it’s important to choose books at an appropriate reading level for your child, it’s equally important — and piles of fun — to throw in some books with words beyond their current abilities. If the language is engaging enough and the illustrations sufficiently beguiling, your little reader will enjoy the book, learning some great new words rather than becoming frustrated. A great book to try this out is Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy. This wild linguistic romp concerns a baby who flies off, stuck in a bubble blown by his sister. Mother is terrified and the townspeople are stumped: how to get Baby down safely? As well as being a tongue-twister to read (“At the sudden cry of trouble, Mother took off at the double, / for the squealing left her reeling, made her terrified and tense, / saw the bubble for a minute, with the baby bobbing in it, / as it bibbled by the letterbox and bobbed across the fence”), Bubble Trouble is a great introduction to words rarely seen in picture books: this week, my two-year-old and I have been discussing the meaning of words like “quibble,” “cavil,” “grovel,” and “divest.” I think a preschooler might get more from the book than my toddler does, but she still loves reading it. Spoiler alert: the baby is safely caught in a patchwork quilt.